The fact that a given year is very much like the previous one can be a very positive thing when it comes to business. The strategic consistency of Richard Mille, founder and president of the brand bearing his name, has enabled the company to achieve controlled growth distinguished by its almost metronomic regularity. Largely thanks to his creativity, the brand has attracted an enviable new clientele over the last few years, among the younger generation as well as in the market for women’s watches. However, the company still maintains a firm focus on the uncompromising quality of its watches, as well as their rarity—which Mille sees as the secret of true luxury.
Let’s talk about your strategy, which has allowed you to make continued progress, despite the industry’s current crisis…
My strategy has not changed one iota. I like creativity, but I also like constancy! The Richard Mille brand should always innovate and favor technology, with watches that are comfortable on the wrist. I insist on taking all aspects seriously: strategy, products, developments, quality, after-sales service. Richard Mille is a brand that keeps its promises, with a true consistency concerning its positioning, sales volume, creativity and quality.
As you like to express it, Richard Mille is a “serious” brand. Why is that?
We guarantee a phenomenal level of horological quality and strong resistance, even in highly technically demanding limited editions. Our quality procedures are like nothing else in watchmaking. Our watches undergo dynamic tests, with tests relating to impacts, aging… because Richard Mille watches are meant to be worn! It’s not enough to say that (Romain) Grosjean races with his Richard Mille on, or that (Rafael) Nadal and (Bubba) Watson play wearing theirs. The watches have to actually stand up to these conditions! The branding has to match reality. We even receive congratulatory letters about our after-sales service. What’s more, we are the only brand to guarantee our watches against minor shocks for five years!
Are you continuing to increase production?
Yes, our production volume and sales numbers are continuing to grow, but we still can’t satisfy demand. In any case, Richard Mille doesn’t enter into that logic (of rapid growth). You know, at my age, I’ve acquired a cautious attitude (laughs)! Especially since luxury should not become debased, but instead remain synonymous with consistency, as I said, as well as rarity. To talk numbers, in 2015 we produced about 3,200 units, then 3,500 in 2016—for a sales volume of 225,160,000 Swiss francs (CHF) and an average price of 180,000 CHF. This year, we will probably produce about 4,000 watches.
How has your distribution network evolved?
This year, we are opening new boutiques in Moscow, New York, Seoul, Taipei, Osaka, Kobe, Toronto and Saint Barth; we had delayed the openings in order to better control our growth. Richard Mille boutiques have very high sales, as do our multi-brand retailers. However, we have cut our number of points of sale in half, from 150 to 75. In fact, we couldn’t deliver enough products, and we needed more space: 150 to 200m2. The collection has expanded, the whole range has evolved, because I have a strategy in mind for harmoniously dividing our sales numbers between the different lines. Currently, even though the RM 11 chronograph is our bestseller, our collection includes several other successful models: the RM 030, RM 35-01, RM 29, RM 050 and the RM 055 for men, and the RM 07-01 and RM 037 for women.
How is the demand for women’s watches?
In 2015, we produced a little under 500 women’s watches. In 2016, that number grew to more than 800. But that wasn’t enough—demand has exploded! We’ve been working on it for a long time, and put a lot of effort into marketing, but over the last three years, it’s paid off.
How did Richard Mille evolve in 2016?
Over the last few years, our clientele has come to include more women, as well as larger numbers of young clients. These are the clients we always dreamed of having. Our existing clientele remains very faithful, and every day new clients come in, some of them between 18 and 20 years old! It’s a sign of security for our future. While I’m very adventurous when it comes to creation, I remain extremely careful about our business model. Richard Mille has become one of horology’s top brands, but remains revolutionary. That is very important to me.
What are some of the other avenues of progress for the company?
We have considerable potential for development in Russia, China, Japan, Eastern Europe and Northern Europe, where we don’t have much of a presence, or sometimes any presence at all. In the countries where we have points of sale, we are making significant progress. When the rest of the world was investing in China in 2008, I chose to invest in the US. We worked hard to make inroads in this market, and today, Richard Mille is a well-known brand in the United States. We have just one boutique in China, in Shanghai, and it is doing extremely well, so our path is wide open there. Same thing in Russia, another place where we are taking our time.
What new models are you presenting in 2017?
In January, we launched our new McLaren watch, and we will release many new models around summertime. These days, I don’t unveil all my latest pieces at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva at the beginning of the year—I will launch marketing operations only after we have half the pieces in stock. Then, I deliver as many units as I can over the next six months. We have also rejuvenated our top seller, the RM 11-03. It’s a strategy that I will be extending to our other models, such as the highly popular, ultra-thin RM 67. All of our women’s watches, as well as the RM 67, are equipped with in-house movements. Of course, we continue to work with Renaud & Papi and Vaucher Manufacture, but we will be increasing the number of watches powered by our own calibers.
What partnerships do you have coming up?
John Malkovich, the brilliant actor of stage and screen, has signed on with us, as has Margot Robbie, who played a notable role in The Wolf of Wall Street. We are very open-minded, but we remain strongly involved in the world of automobiles, especially with McLaren, an excellent partnership.